Playing The Long Con

Posted by Daeity On Monday, February 13, 2012

“Do you know the difference between a hustler and a good con-man? A hustler has to get out of town as quickly as he can. But, a good con-man? He doesn't have to leave until he wants to.”
- James Woods

In the past, I've talked about how the RMAH was designed so that only high level (or should I say, the most valuable) items will be sold on it. Even Blizzard is aware of this, and they want the most valuable items only sold on the RMAH. Even if they're not directly sold by a player, it will end up on the RMAH indirectly by another player who re-sells it.

In the end, all of the best stuff will be on there.

The other day, one of our readers asked a question about the "forced" usage of the RMAH so I wanted to expand on this. My comment ended up being too long, so I just decided to answer the question as a full post:

Don't you think that making the RMAH mandatory would alienate a big chunk of their playerbase?"

If they make inferno so hard that you can't beat it without the best gear possible from inferno(which will only be available on the RMAH), I see a few problems coming up:

-How are people supposed to get inferno gear if they can't beat inferno without said inferno gear? (D3 endgame multiplayer only? o_O)
-If they are forced to buy stuff from the RMAH to progress in inferno, I can see a lot of player simply not bothering with it, just quitting. I don't think Blizzard want that.
-There will be a lot of rage against the RMAH as soon as people are forced to use it. I'm pretty sure a lot of Blizzard's fans are against the idea of "pay to win".

The way I see it: buying stuff on the RMAH will be a way to speed up your character progression. Yes, inferno will be super hard, but there's no way Blizzard is going to force you to buy stuff to progress. That would be a horrible way to promote their new and controversial business model. (D3 isn't F2P, the idea that you'd NEED to spend more money than the initial purchase price in order to beat it feels wrong).
I don't think a "mandatory" RMAH will alienate the playerbase, because they won't even know they're being alienated in the first place. :)

Perception Management

The financial motivations of a company are not a subject that most gamers care to discuss, let alone even want to be aware of. They just want to play the video game, but the game ends up playing them too.

I think what will happen is that most players will actually turn around and THANK Blizzard for creating such a difficult experience. :)

They'll never make the connection between the Inferno difficulty level (and other difficulty level "steps" to get to Hell) and the RMAH.

(Unfortunately, I have to start tagging the blog URL to any pic I throw together. Flux from Incgamers likes to borrow images from this blog for his own posts without crediting the source.)

Players won't get angry at Blizzard for the "mandatory" RMAH because Blizzard is an expert at perception management. And this is what it all comes down to: perception. It won't be a problem for Blizzard if they're not perceived as the problem. So, where is the real problem and who can Blizzard redirect anger and frustration?

Blizzard has kept emphasizing that the Real Money Auction House is a completely player-driven economy, it's managed by the players, and that they have no control over it. They have also said that the RMAH is "COMPLETELY OPTIONAL." Blizzard is not forcing you to use it at all. If players just happen to put items up on the RMAH, Blizzard can't be held responsible for it.. because they promised they would be "hands off."

This Is Unfair!

In situations where players complain on the public forums about Inferno or Hell being too difficult, and how they're "forced" to use the RMAH (because it's the only place with the best gear), I suspect that the following will happen:

  • Blizzard CM's will rush to address the concern.. by correcting the gamer for being wrong. They'll be told that the RMAH is "completely optional" and that they're not being forced in anyway to use it.
  • The Blizzard CMs will tell them that they can just buy whatever they want from the Gold Auction House. If they can't find what they're looking for, it's just a "coincidence" and they probably checked the Gold AH at the wrong time. Throughout all of this, they'll feign ignorance to the fact that the best items can only be found on the RMAH.
  • Blizzard CMs will say that they don't have to buy anything at all, and they just need to farm Nightmare or Hell to get the items they want.. just like their other games. "It will be just like WoW where you need to farm bosses to get the gear you want."
  • The blue army will also rush to the aid of the Blizzard CMs and correct the complainer on the forums as well. (Some will actually be Blizzard employees under the guise of regular players.) Posts will be edited or deleted, all to manage perception.
  • Blizzard forums will be full of customers and fanboys praising Blizzard for making the Inferno level so difficult, and how they did an excellent job finally making a challenging difficulty level for the players. Gamers who use the RMAH, and then complain about it, will be chastised for being lazy and taking the easy path. Or, they will be called "spoiled rich kids" or impatient for trying to rush the game when they should have been farming "like everyone else." Another common one will be, "Why are you complaining? It's a subscription fee game! It's just a little bit of money, and Blizzard needs it to keep the lights on."
You'll see some contradictory behavior. On one hand, Blizzard will encourage use of the RMAH, but on the other hand, they'll publicly look down upon "Pay To Win" players. :)

The Average User

Above, I just talked about users who complain, but that's a small minority.

On average, most players who use the RMAH will either feel guilty about it, or more likely, they'll think they're cheating the system and gaining an advantage over other players. In either case, these players won't say anything or complain on the forums.. just the way Blizzard likes it.

The problem is that these players won't know they're being "forced" to buy from the RMAH. They'll think that it's their own decision.

It's human nature to be easily influenced and believe that we came to a decision on our own, especially when a game developer's professional marketing and team of psychologists are constantly pounding an idea into our heads. Sometimes it is our own conscious decision, but that's only when we're fully aware of all of the facts and it's a well informed decision.

In some cases, the decision to buy from the RMAH will be because they're impatient and they want to skip ahead to get to the end-game with their friends. (The same thing that happens countless times in WOW and D2.) Or, this might just be their belief when they realize how difficult it is to get properly geared.

These players also don't want to tell anyone they bought from the RMAH so that they won't be labelled as a pariah (even though everyone else does it, and they also never admit to it.)

Forced, but not forced..

"It will be just like WoW where you need to farm bosses to get the gear you want."

But, there's a really big problem with this. You have two options to gear up for Inferno: you can farm Hell, or use the "optional" RMAH.

Is Hell really an option though? Players keep forgetting that Diablo 3 does not have any loot tables. You can't farm specific bosses or mobs for items you need, no matter what you kill, your loot is completely random.

You could farm Hell for years without ever getting the proper gear, and in the absence of free trading, it's a nearly impossible task. And, consider this for casual players!

Even the crafting system for gear will still function the same as regular item farming because you can't craft an item without the Rare Blacksmith Plan drop first. These plans will be sold on the RMAH, just like other rare items or weapons. Besides the random chance in getting the recipe, consider also that crafting the gear is completely random as well. Each time you craft a weapon, it will have random properties and modifiers, and each crafting attempt requires a large influx of Inferno level salvage and Rare Crafting Materials. And even the salvaged materials are completely random! You're back to the same problem of receiving items that you don't need. And, you're still dependent on farming Inferno for all of these materials and recipes, but you can't farm Inferno until you get the proper gear.

Given the number of items, item modifiers, and affixes, there will be billions (if not trillions) of combinations of items in the game. Because of this massive pool of items (Blizzard has stated it's an "item-centric game"), Blizzard is going to be praised for providing so many options for us. As we farm Hell, it's going to appear awesome.. "look at all of these items that are dropping! Wow!".. until the player realizes that they're not actually getting the gear they really need. These useless items (for that player) will actually end up the Auction Houses, and ultimately the RMAH in one form or another, so that another player, who actually needs it, can buy it.

Because of the amount of loot and random generators in the game, the chances of getting the right combination of items are next to impossible.. without using the RMAH. As a Demon Hunter on your own, you might just keep getting hundreds of "of the Owl" crossbows and wands.

The sheer amount of loot will blind you to the truth. You'll have a thousand spoons, but all you need is a knife.

You will be told, though, that you just need to farm Hell for the right items but you have the "optional" RMAH. You're not being forced to do anything you want.

When you consider this, it isn't just a "Pay 2 Win" problem any more. For most players, the RMAH will be needed for actual player advancement, and you can't go any further in the game without the right gear. You need to farm for the right gear, but the only epic boss in Diablo 3 with a loot table is the Real Money Auction House.. it's easy to beat, you just throw a lot of cash at it.